The biggest city in the Pacific Northwest has a diverse population, a surplus of public parks and leafy residential neighbourhoods on surrounding hills.
Setting off the space age urban environment of the Seattle Center and the cluster of skyscrapers downtown, Seattle is ensconced in glorious natural scenery.
There’s the vastness of Puget Sound, the outline of the Olympic Mountains off to the west and the colossal mass of Mount Rainier, the most prominent peak in the United States.
You could savour these views for hours, from the elevated Kerry Park, the famous Space Needle, the Columbia Center or the Waterfront, but make time for Seattle’s museums, trendy neighbourhoods and daring architecture.
Consider getting the Seattle CityPASS to save on admission to several of our suggestions.
1. Pike Place Market
Cascading down a steep hill to the waterfront on Elliott Bay is a market of amazing proportions.
With a history going back to 1907, Pike Place Market has farmers’ stands for seasonal produce, a wealth of permanent produce stalls, four fish markets, dozens of specialty food stores for hard-to-find ingredients, a crafts market with more than 200 traders and an absurd amount of places to eat.
Give yourself as much time as possible to be tempted by the aroma of baking bread, or to browse collectibles, vinyl and retro decor in little shops.
Come early in the day to beat the crowds, but if you visit later you’ll be serenaded by the market’s talented buskers.
Over nine acres and composed of winding alleys and stairways down to lower levels, Pike Place Market is the kind of place that benefits from a bit of local perspective.
You could try the 2.5-hour tour via GetYourGuide.com, taking you to corners that only locals know about, all the while imparting interesting snippets about the site’s history.
You’ll make seven stops to sample fresh produce and artisan treats, so you won’t have to worry about going hungry. Another popular option is the Pike Place Market Chef-Guided Food Tour
2. Seattle Center
Below Queen Anne Hill at the northern fringe of Seattle’s downtown, the Seattle Center is a cultural, arts and entertainment zone on 74 acres.
This Modernist cityscape was all built for the 1962 World’s Fair, which gave a shot in the arm to the city’s economy and cultural life, and pulled in more than 2.3 million visitors.
The Seattle Center’s emblem is the Space Needle, which we’ll come to next, but as we’ll see there’s a lot more packed onto the site, from museums to performing arts venues and the 18,600-seater KeyArena.
Get there on the elevated Seattle Center Monorail, which is full of space age charm and sets off from the Westlake Center in downtown Seattle.
Make a stop at the musical International Fountain, completed for the exposition, and eschewing sculptural decoration for the parabolic shapes created by its 137 water jets.
On weekends, especially in summer, there’s always something going on in the center’s grounds.
One of the landmarks on the calendar is PrideFest at the end of June, attended by 300,000+ people.
3. Space Needle
A defining feature of Seattle’s silhouette for almost 60 years, the Space Needle is a timeless symbol for the city.
When it went up in 1962 it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi, standing at 158 metres (184 with spire). You’ll ascend the tower in a glass elevator to the observation deck at 160 metres, where you can ponder the Seattle’s towers, Mount Rainier, the islands on Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountains and the Olympic Mountains.
Wall panels help you identify more than 60 landmarks on this panorama.
In 2017-18 a $100m renovation project installed the Loupe, which is the world’s first and only rotating glass floor.
The windows on the observation deck now have floor-to-ceiling glass panels that are unobstructed by mullions, in line with the original sketches in the early 1960s.
On the open-air deck are “Skyrisers”, tilting glass walls that you can lean on to float over Seattle from 24 different vantage points.
Recommended tour: 3-Hour City Highlights Tour
4. Chihuly Garden and Glass
The Tacoma-born glass artist Dale Chihuly has earned worldwide acclaim for his colourful and logic-defying glass sculptures.
Established at the Seattle Center in 2012, Chihuly Garden and Glass is a dazzling museum dedicated to his work.
The exhibition comprises eight galleries, a lush garden and the Glasshouse, the attraction’s astounding mainstay.
This glass and steel structure was inspired by Chihuly’s fascination for conservatories, and suspended from the ceiling is a 30-metre work in yellow, red, orange and amber that seems to change with the light throughout the day.
In the eight galleries you can get to grips with Chihuly’s career and discover how he rewrote the rulebook for glass art.
The Garden, planted with handkerchief trees, fuchsias, camellias and daylilies, is a stage for four monumental works, while the Theater screens videos with interviews and glassblowing demonstrations.
Suggested tour: Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit Tour
5. Museum of Pop Culture
Since 2000 the Seattle Center Monorail has zipped through this outlandish sheet-metal building by Frank Gehry.
Up to 2016 this was the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, before settling on the more manageable “Museum of Pop Culture”. Established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the museum now stages changing exhibitions tackling all aspects of popular culture, be it video games, horror movies, sci-fi literature or music of all genres.
In 2019 Scared to Death featured more than 50 props and costumes from A Nightmare on Elm Street , Buffy, the Walking Dead and many more.
Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction had 150 artefacts that you’ll have seen in Blade Runner, Star Trek or Men in Black.
There was also a major exhibition, Prince from Minneapolis, complete with outfits from Purple Rain, a Prince guitar, more than 50 Prince-related artefacts, as well as the work of photographers that Prince hired to help cultivate his image.
6. Seattle Art Museum (SAM)
Anchored in downtown Seattle, the Seattle Art Museum has two other locations, at the Olympic Sculpture Park and the Asian Art Museum (closed for renovation at the time of writing). The SAM’s inventory is wide-ranging, but has an exceptional collection of Native American art from the Pacific Northwest, including basketry, textiles, masks, totem poles and other delicate carvings in stone and wood.
Gothic and early-Renaissance Italian painting is also well-represented, with works by Giovanni di Paolo, Puccio di Simone and Paolo Uccello.
Also in the collection is painting, decorative art and furniture from the Northwest, and 20th-century American art by the likes of Mark Tobey and Jacob Lawrence.
Keep an eye on the SAM’s major exhibitions: In early 2019 there was a vibrant show for Jeffrey Gibson, weaving together his Native American heritage, nomadic life, love for popular music and sexual identity.
7. Olympic Sculpture Park
A mile from the SAM’s headquarters, on a nine-acre former industrial site at the northern end of the Seattle Seawall is an outdoor gallery for the museum’s sculpture collection.
There are more than 20 works at the Olympic Sculpture Park, on a site straddling Elliott Avenue and merging with the bay-front Myrtle Edwards Park.
One of the most eye-catching pieces is Alexander Calder’s monumental Eagle, which lines up beautifully with the Space Needle when viewed from the south-west.
Other renowned artists in the collection are Roxy Paine (Split), Richard Serra (Wake), Ellsworth Kelly (Curve XXIV) and Jaume Plensa (Echo). You’ll also find it hard to resist parking yourself on one of the metallic chairs and gazing out over Puget Sound.
8. Pacific Science Center
In a Minoru Yamasaki building dating from the World’s Fair, the Pacific Science Center is a family-oriented museum bringing scientific concepts to life through hundreds of hands-on exhibits.
For a brief example, at the Insect Village you’ll discover the almost supernatural feats that insects are capable of, from carrying air in bubbles on underwater dives to lifting objects many times their weight.
“What is Reality” is a window on immersive technologies, confronting the mind-bending questions that are shaping our future.
The Tropical Butterfly House is warm and humid all year round and has hundreds of free-flying butterflies, with a different mix of species every few months.
The Pacific Science Center is one of the few attractions in the world with two IMAX theaters, planetarium and laser dome equipped with a shuddering 10,000 watt concert sound system.
Tip: Included in the Seattle CityPASS
9. Seattle Great Wheel
The giant Ferris wheel at Pier 57 is the tallest on the West Coast at more than 53 metres.
The Seattle Great Wheel may seem like a tourist trap at first glance, but has a lot going for it.
The scenery is of course spellbinding, but you’ll be able to enjoy it from a fully enclosed capsule, which is good news on rainy days or chilly nights.
The pods don’t swing, even in blustery weather, and on Friday and Saturday evenings the wheel stays open until midnight all year.
If you fancy an upgrade there’s a VIP pod with a glass floor, leather seats, champagne and line-jumping privileges.
10. Ballard Locks
Dating to 1917 and constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the busiest set of locks in the United States allows water traffic to travel between the tidal waters Puget Sound and the Lake Washington Ship Canal.
This waterway passes through Seattle’s inland freshwater lakes, via Lake Washington, Portage Bay, Lake Union and Salmon Bay, where it meets Puget Sound.
The locks have permanently changed Seattle, lowering the water level on Lake Washington and Lake Union by 2.7 metres, giving rise to many miles of new land on the lakefronts.
There’s a visitor centre detailing this eight-year project, while the sight of trawlers and pleasure yachts and barges navigating the locks is a real spectacle.
On the south side of the channel is a fish ladder used by salmon to swim to freshwater lakes or streams to spawn, and then for the juvenile fish to return to the ocean.
Spawning season is from around early June to the middle of August, and you can view the salmon through underwater windows.
Top rated tour available: Seattle Locks Cruise
11. Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
On June 6 1889 a cabinet-maker accidentally ignited a glue pot, and the ensuing Great Seattle Fire wiped out 31 blocks.
One upshot was that the reconstructed city’s streets were re-graded one to two storeys higher than the original city streets.
This helped keep the central Pioneer Square dry, as it had been built on mudflat, and prevented toilets from backing up at high tide.
It also left a cavernous subterranean space where the old storefronts used to be.
It’s exciting to explore the forgotten city, but you’ll also be told lots of humorous anecdotes about Seattle’s earthy and roguish pioneers.
Tours set off on the hour every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
The tour is named for its founder, self-taught historian Bill Speidel (1912-1988) who helped to preserve and restore Seattle’s original city centre at Pioneer Square in the 1960s.
Related tour: Seattle: Underground Walking Tour
12. Museum of Flight
A short drive south to Boeing Field in Tukwila is the largest independent air and space museum in the world.
In a city with Seattle’s aviation pedigree, it’s a trip not to pass up, especially because the central T.A. Wilson Great Gallery is a jaw-dropping steel and glass construction.
This vast space holds scores of aircraft, many suspended from the ceiling.
One of these is the Gossamer Albatross II, the backup aircraft for the first human-powered flight across the English Channel.
There’s a cockpit from a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and a de Havilland Comet, the world’s first jetliner.
Outside in the Airpark you can enter one of only four Concordes on show outside Europe, as well as the very first jet Air Force One, used by JFK, Johnson and Reagan.
There’s also a Space Gallery with NASA and Russian hardware, while the Personal Courage Gallery chronicles the feats of WWI and WWII fighter pilots.
Finally, the William E. Boeing Red Barn is the birthplace of the Boeing Airplane Company, dating to 1909 and relocated from South Lake Union in Seattle.
Book online: Admission to The Museum of Flight
13. Washington Park Arboretum
The University of Washington Botanic Gardens and the City of Seattle work together to maintain these magnificent 230 acres on the shores of Lake Washington.
You can visit free of charge every day from dawn to dusk.
Established in 1934, the Washington Park Arboretum has a top-notch winter garden, as well as world-class collections of maples, oaks and camellias.
The arboretum’s most treasured feature is the Azalea Way, a 3/4 mile walk bordered by flowering cherries, magnolias, dogwoods and of course azaleas, all framed by second-growth conifers and evergreens.
As you’d imagine, the Azalea Way is a delight in spring.
In late spring, the Rhododendron Glen is obligatory, with dozens of rhododendron bushes grouped according to species and accompanied by ferns, hardwood trees, firs, shrubs and magnolias.
The Graham Visitors Center will help you get started, and is also the departure point for deep dive tram tours around the arboretum on summer weekends.
14. Seattle Central Library
In 2004 Rem Koolhaas’s glass and steel central library building became a new symbol for Seattle.
Eleven storeys and 57 metres high, the Seattle Central Library is certainly bold, with a reflective glass skin, sharp planes and overhangs caused by discrete “floating platforms”. The building is majestic from the inside, not least because of its surfeit of natural light, and can be explored on a self-guided tour or group tour (Monday to Saturday). Just inside the 4th Avenue entrance, take a peek at a piece of the automated materials handling system whisking books up to Level Two.
The Faye G. Allen Children’s Center is a wonderland for kids where they can browse books, use games and puzzles and attend story times and other programmes.
On Level Three is the Norcliffe Foundation Living Room, an inviting public space with cosy seating areas, a cafe and indoor garden and sunlight issuing through the diamond-pattern windows.
Most of the computer terminals are on Level Five at the Charles Simonyi Mixing Chamber, while the Red Floor on Level Four has 13 different shades of red on its floor, ceiling and walls.
15. Smith Tower
Before the Space Needle the tallest building in Seattle was the Neoclassical Smith Tower, the city’s first skyscraper.
This 38-storey building on Pioneer Square was the city’s first skyscraper, 148 metres high and one of the tallest towers outside of New York City at that time.
The Smith Tower is named for its financier, Lyman Cornelius Smith, who made his fortune in the typewriter business.
The Smith Tower may have been overtaken almost 60 years ago, but a visit to the observation floor 35 storeys up is something you have to do in Seattle.
For one thing, this is one of the last buildings on the West Coast to still employ elevator operators.
The tower is rich with period fittings, like latticed doors on the brass-coated elevators, banisters fashioned from onyx and the carved teak ceilings in the observation floor’s bar, which reopened with a speakeasy theme in 2016.
Available online: The Legends of Smith Tower – Observatory Access
16. Sky View Observatory
At 295 metres to its tip, the Columbia Center is the tallest building in Washington State.
When it was topped off in 1985 this skyscraper was the tallest building on the whole West Coast, though it has since dropped down to fourth on the list.
In the 2010s the Sky View observatory on the 73rd floor has been modified to give you a 360° view, while two new express elevators and a new lounge have also been modified.
Although the Columbia Center doesn’t share the Space Needle’s cachet, the view is on a whole other level but less frequented.
It’s not hard to lose all track of time watching the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier and the boats plying Puget Sound from this height, while tasteful murals will fill you in on Seattle’s past.
Book online: Sky View Observatory General Admission Ticket
17. Washington State Ferries
Can you really say you’ve been to Seattle if you haven’t crossed the Puget Sound on a ferry? Washington State Ferries (WSF) maintains the largest fleet of ferries of any operator in the United States (23), running 12 different routes on what is the fourth-largest ferry system in the world.
All of the ferries can carry a minimum of 64 cars, and even the smallest vessel can accommodate 750 passengers.
Perhaps the best trip is the Seattle-Bainbridge Island ferry, departing from Pier 52 and taking 40-45 minutes.
Looking back, you can appreciate the skyline and the beautiful homes and beaches of West Seattle.
Bainbridge Island is also desirable, often touted as one of the most liveable places in the United States.
On landing you could call in at the highly-rated Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.
Recommended tour (includes transport by ferry): Bainbridge Island Nature Reserve Walk with Lunch
18. Kerry Park
For the ultimate view of Seattle there’s only one place to go.
Kerry Park is on a south-facing terrace on leafy Queen Anne Hill, with a panorama that takes in all of the things that people associate with the city.
In the foreground is the Space Needle, before the towers of Downtown Seattle.
To the west is the open water of Puget Sound, while rising in the background is the snow-capped bulk of Mount Rainier.
The little park was donated to Seattle in 1927 by the lumber magnate Albert Kerry and his wife Catherine “so that all who stop here may enjoy this view”. Come in the evening when the Space Needle and wheel are dazzling, and you can trace the brightly lit ferries crossing the Puget Sound.
19. T-Mobile Park
Known as Safeco Field up to 2019, the home of the Seattle Mariners can seat 46,929 and opened in 1999. Twenty years after completion, T-Mobile Park is still a benchmark stadium, with retro-modern hints in the Art Deco-style brick facade, as well as unbroken sightlines for spectators, a retractable roof, a natural grass field and a food and drink selection that goes well beyond typical ballpark grub.
So you can branch out with a crab sandwich, tacos and margaritas, waffles or the Mariners’ now famous garlic fries.
You’ll be extra grateful that the venue and food are so good because the Mariners are one of just two MLB teams never to have played in a World Series, and are currently going through the longest play-off drought in all four major American Sports (18 years at the time of writing).
20. Woodland Park Zoo
Within a continuous patch of parkland attached to Green Lake Park in North Central Seattle, the Woodland Park Zoo is a multi-award-winning attraction.
In fact no other zoo apart from the Bronx Zoo has picked up as many prizes from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Many of the individual habitats have garnered awards, like the penguin enclosure where you can view Humboldt penguins darting underwater from a window.
And since you’re in Seattle you can observe the species of the Northwest at the Northern Trail habitat, keeping gray wolves, elk, North American river otters and brown bears.
The largest section of all is Tropical Asia, for the likes of Malayan tigers, Indian rhinos, tapirs, sloth bears and orangutans, while African Savanna hosts favourites like African lions, zebras, giraffes and ostriches.
Like all the best zoos, there’s always something going on each day like penguin feeding, a walk-through bird experience and bird of prey demonstrations with owls and hawks.
Tip: Included in the Seattle CityPASS
21. Seattle Japanese Garden
At the south end of the Washington Park Arboretum is a magical 3.5-acre garden laid out in the late-1950s on the supervision of the respected landscape architect Jūki Iida.
Meandering paths and benches encourage you to go slow and appreciate the garden’s water, stones, lanterns, plants, fauna, bridges and buildings.
This is one of the oldest Japanese gardens in the United States, but also one of the most authentic, and a venue for all sorts of celebrations in the Japanese calendar, like Children’s Day (5 May) and Respect for the Aged Day (16 September). On the fourth Saturday of the month in summer you can also take part in a traditional tea ceremony at the teahouse.
22. Pioneer Square
In 1852 Seattle’s founders chose modern day Pioneer Square as the heart of their settlement.
The original wooden buildings were replaced towards the end of the 19th century by the stately Romanesque Revival buildings standing today.
The neighbourhood, although a little edgy, merits a walking tour for this architecture and for its miscellany of restaurants, cafes, book shops and art galleries.
The small, irregular namesake plaza is shaded by plane trees and has an elegant Beaux-Arts shelter.
The totem pole here is a replica of a Tlingit pole carved around 1790, and stolen by Seattle businessmen on an expedition to Alaska.
It was gifted to the city on their return and quickly became a symbol of civic pride.
In 1938 the original totem pole was damaged in a fire, and a team of Tlingit carvers was commissioned to produce a replica, inaugurated in 1940.
Related tour: Seattle in One Day Tour
23. Alki Beach
When things hot up in summer, Seattleites don’t have to travel far for a day at the beach.
Arcing down to Alki Point at the tip of West Seattle, Alki Beach is a sweep of sand angled towards Elliott Bay.
The raised promenade behind has the sort of views you expect from Seattle’s coastline, encompassing Blake Island, the Olympic Mountains and the constant stream of water traffic on Puget Sound.
For curiosities there’s a scaled-down version of the Statue of Liberty, while at the beach’s northern end on Duwamish Head is a 2.3-anchor salvaged by the Nor’West Divers’ Club.
A lovely way to watch the sunset and do some stargazing is beside a campfire, and there are fire pits on the beach on a first-come-first-served basis.
24. Benaroya Hall
The seat of the Seattle Symphony is a striking landmark in Downtown Seattle, taking up an entire city block.
Benaroya Hall is named for the philanthropist Jack Benaroya who made the first and biggest donation towards the hall’s construction.
The venue was completed in 1998 at a cost of $120m and is renowned for its world-class acoustics.
In one creative measure, the main auditorium sits on rubber pads, insulating it from the noise of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel beneath the building.
In the lobby you can marvel at the Crystal Cascade, by famed glass sculptor Chris Chihuly.
As of 2019-20 the Seattle Symphony’s music director is Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard, taking over from Ludovic Morlot.
Among the highlights in the 18-19 season were Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Ravel’s Piano Concerto and Nielsen’s Symphony No. 2, featuring performances by important musicians like violinist Augustin Hadelich (Grammy winner in 2016), tenor Kenneth Tarver and pianist Jonathan Biss.
25. Seattle Aquarium
At Pier 59 on the Waterfront, the Seattle Aquarium shines a light on the diverse marine life of the Pacific Northwest.
The enormous tank built for the attractions in the 2007 expansion is Window on Washington Waters, showcasing local Pacific species like rockfish, lingcod, wolf eels, salmon and sea anemones from a depth of 1.5 metres to just over 18 metres.
There are dive shows three times a day in this tank (10:00, 11:30 and 12:15, plus 15:00 on weekends) and the divers answer visitors’ questions using modified masks.
Life on the Edge presents all the life found in tide-pools on the Pacific coast and around Seattle’s inland, allowing you to touch sea cucumbers and sea urchins.
In Life of a Drifter there are moon jellies and a giant Pacific octopus, while Marine Mammals is inhabited by sea otters, river otters, northern fur seals and harbour seals.
Tip: Included in the Seattle CityPASS
26. South Lake Union
Literally on the southern tip of Lake Union, this neighbourhood, just north-east of downtown Seattle, is a former manufacturing zone that is changing at breathtaking speed.
A century ago Bill Boeing’s first airplane factory was in South Lake Union, as was the first Model T plant west of the Mississippi.
Since the 2000s the area has quickly become a biotechnology hub, joined to downtown by the South Lake Union Streetcar and home to all sorts of research institutes, as well as campuses for Amazon and Google.
As we’ll see below, Amazon’s spectacular headquarters are just a few streets south, on the edge of downtown Seattle.
Amazon’s convenience store, Amazon Go, has two locations in South Lake Union for a bewildering peek into the future of retail.
In the space of just a few blocks there’s a massive choice of cafes, pubs and health-conscious/organic restaurants.
Kati Vegan Thai and the Portage Bay Café are two favourites.
At the recently laid out Lake Union Park check out the handsome old boats on the Historic Ships Wharf and make for the Center for Wooden Boats, which we’ll talk about later.
Cruise available: Seattle’s Favorite Sightseeing and Cocktail Cruise
27. Museum of History and Industry
There are a lot of absorbing stories hiding in Seattle’s past, and this museum in Lake Union Park’s Naval Reserve Armory building is perfectly equipped to tell them.
The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) is a wonderful resource, with a collection of more than four million pieces, only 2% of which can be shown at one time The core exhibition is True Northwest: The Seattle Journey, a complete chronology for the city via 25 “snapshots”, packed with artefacts and photography.
You can delve into specific events like the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897, the foundation of Boeing in 1916 and the Red Scare Smith Act Trials of the 1950s.
Suspended in the Grand Atrium You’ll get to see the 1919 Boeing B-1, the company’s first commercial plane, and the famous “R” from the Rainier Brewing Company’s sign.
In 2014 the museum unveiled the Bezos Center for Innovation, detailing the many inventions that have come out of the Seattle area, and investigating creativity as a concept.
28. Kubota Garden
The self-taught Japanese master landscaper Fujitaro Kubota (1879-1973) was a horticultural trailblazer, using time-honoured Japanese techniques while embracing plants and trees native to the Pacific Northwest.
Running a successful gardening business in South Seattle, Kubota developed this exquisite show garden, creating hills, valleys, streams, waterfalls, ponds and rocky outcrops in 20 acres.
The Kubota Garden was a labour of love spanning five decades and purchased by the City of Seattle in 1987. In the 1990s Fujitaro’s son Tom laid out the Stroll Garden here, which has a reflecting pond hemmed by lanterns and carefully pruned pines and maples.
There are more than 220 Japanese maples in the Kubota Garden, many of which are rare and unusual varieties.
29. Gas Works Park
A park like no other, Gas Works Park is on a nub of land over the north shore of Lake Union.
From 1906 to 1956 this was the site for the Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant, the remains of which were preserved rather than pulled down when the park was laid out in the 1970s.
During that process the land was decontaminated using “bio-phytoremediation” techniques, and thousands of cubic metres of rubble were piled up to form the park’s Great Mound that affords one of the best panoramas of downtown Seattle and is a prime kite-flying spot.
You can amble along the waterfront, past the two imposing sets of towers, while the old pump house has been converted into a play barn for children and the boiler house is now a picnic shelter.
Because of the site’s industrial past, there’s no access to Lake Union from this park.
30. Green Lake Park
One of Seattle’s most beloved parks is on a freshwater lake, encircled by residential neighbourhoods in North Central Seattle.
Like all of the lakes in the Seattle area, Green Lake was scooped out by the Vashon glacial sheet some 50,000 years ago, and at the beginning of the 20th century was landscaped as part of the Olmsted Plan to lay out a sequence of interconnected green spaces around Seattle.
The lake itself is 259 acres, flocked by waterfowl, and ringed by a freshly relaid 2.8-mile path for walkers, cyclists, skaters and joggers.
You can rent a canoe, dinghy, pedal boat or rowboat, and there are facilities for baseball, soccer, lawn bowls and golf (pitch & putt). The elegant bathhouse by the water is from 1927 and is now occupied by the Seattle Public Theater, for modern and contemporary plays in an intimate setting.
31. Lumen Field
Opened in 2002, the home stadium for the Seattle Seahawks (NFL) and the Seattle Sounders (MLS) is in a exciting urban setting on Elliott Bay with clear lines of sight north towards downtown Seattle, and across the Puget Sound to the Olympic Mountains.
On a typical fixture Lumen Field seats 69,000 for a Seahawks game and 37,722 for the Sounders, although the capacity can be increased for big events.
If you’re not in town for sporting action, the stadium warrants a visit for the 90-minute tour.
This takes place three times a day, seven days a week in June, July and August, with a more limited schedule at other times of the year.
You’ll head into the Home Interview Room, Visit the Locker Room, go down to the field, enter a suite, the press box and climb up to the 300 Level Concourse for amazing panoramas.
32. Volunteer Park Conservatory
The best of the monuments in Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park is a stunning conservatory modelled on London’s Crystal Palace and completed in 1912. This wrought iron and glass wonder is composed of 3,426 glass panels and houses the park’s collections of bromeliads, ferns, palms, cactuses/succulents and seasonal plants.
The heat and humidity varies from area to area and is computer controlled, rising to 27°C in the cactus house.
In this space, look for the historic jade tree, while the sago palm in the Palm House is also older than 75 years.
Other must-sees are the carnivorous plants in the Fern House, and the Palm House’s striking collection of orchids, first put together in 1921 and expanded down the years with specimens confiscated by customs.
33. Frye Art Museum
Seattle’s first free art museum opened in 1952 after the meatpacking entrepreneur Charles Frye and his wife Emma donated their collection of more than 230 paintings to the city.
The Fryes had rather conservative tastes, even for the time, and were into moody and dramatic representational art.
A big portion of the museum’s inventory is devoted to late-19th-century Munich School artists like Franz von Lenbach and Wilhelm Leibl.
They are accompanied by the likes of French landscape painter Eugène Boudin, Academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau, along with later acquisitions, from Edward Hopper to early-phase Picasso.
The Fryes had exacting conditions for their donation, one being that the galleries could only be illuminated by natural light.
The long-term Frye Salon exhibitions, with walls crowded with paintings, recreate the viewing experience at the couple’s home in the early 20th century.
34. Lake Union Seaplane Flight
Seaplanes have a special place in Seattle and Boeing’s history, and accelerated the city’s development in the first decades of the 20th century.
In June 1916 Bill Boeing taxied and took off from Lake Union for his Boeing Model 1 seaplane’s maiden flight, and many of the company’s subsequent aircraft were seaplanes.
With Viator you take to the skies from Lake Union in the same way for a 20-minute tour of Seattle’s skyline, taking in a bird’s eye view of the Space Needle, the Elliott Bay Waterfront , the University of Washington Campus and landmarks like CenturyLink Field while gazing down to Mount Rainier on the horizon.
There’s a recorded commentary so you won’t miss a detail on the flight.
Kenmore Air schedules a host of services from Lake Union, including flights around Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens.
Book online: Lake Union Seaplane Flight From Seattle
35. Marion Oliver McCaw Hall
Reconstructed at great expense in the early 2000s, the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall is a plush performing arts venue at the Seattle Center, seating 2,963. This is the main venue for the prestigious Pacific Northwest Ballet, a company of almost 50 dancers staging more than 100 performances of mixed repertory and full-length ballets each year.
Highlights of the 2019-2020 season were Giselle and Cinderella, as well as One Thousand Pieces, a large-scale ensemble work by renowned choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo.
Also at the McCaw Hall, the Seattle Opera’s season runs from August to late-May and is attended by almost 100,000 people.
Rigoletto, La Bohème and Cinderella (with the PNB) were on the programme for 2019-20.
36. University of Washington
There are a few reasons why you might find yourself on the University of Washington campus, which is only a few minutes from downtown Seattle and was joined to the Link light rail network in 2016. For starters there’s the highly regarded Henry Art Gallery, which has a strong collection counting more than 25,000 pieces and exhibiting the likes of Mies van der Rohe, Alexander Calder and Buckminster Fuller before they gained wider acclaim.
A permanent installation is the James Turrell Skyspace, Light Reign.
This work blends architecture, lighting and sculpture, with an oval aperture open to the sky that can be sealed by a retractable roof.
You could also catch a concert at the Katharyn Alvord Gerlich Theater, by a renowned artist or a UW ensemble, while the Hec Edmundson Pavilion and the 70,000-seater Husky Stadium are home to the university’s basketball and college football teams, both known as the Huskies.
37. Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room
The international coffee house chain Starbucks is a famous Seattle export, opening its first store at Pike Place in 1971. On Capitol Hill, nine blocks from that historic location you can drop by the swish Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room.
This flagship can best be described as a craft distillery, but for coffee, and looks like no Starbucks you’ve ever seen.
You can watch beans being roasted, while the friendly staff can tell you anything you want to know about the Roastery’s globe-trotting selection.
There’s an “experience bar”, main coffee bar and an enticing Milanese bakery, and the menu is a little more upmarket than you might be accustomed to at Starbucks.
Think long blacks with cardamom syrup, whiskey barrel-aged cold brew and trendy coffee/tea cocktails like a limoncino shakerato or a gin matcha.
All reserve coffees are roasted on that same day, and you can order ahead to sample three in one go.
38. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center
Microsoft founder Bill Gates is another in that prestigious list of Seattleites and in 2012, a visitor center for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation opened near the foot of the Space Needle.
This has been expanded in the last few years to become a Discovery Center”. Using plenty of interactivity, the exhibits document the impact of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation around the world, as it aims to improve lives and tackle the big challenges facing the world.
In the Global Challenge gallery there’s an interactive computer generated map, making clear how issues like malnutrition and poverty affect populations, while “Get Involved” lets you get hands on and help with projects, putting together winter kits for the Northwest’s homeless and making menstrual kits for girls across the globe.
The center also collaborates with other major institutions like the American Museum of Natural History, for special exhibits.
“Countdown to Zero” for example, mapped out the fight to eradicate forgotten tropical diseases.
39. Golden Gardens Park
Right on Puget Sound, the Golden Gardens Park has knockout views over the water and across to the Olympic Mountains.
The park’s story goes back to 1907 when it was developed as a spot at the end of the new electric car lines where people could take day trips for walks, picnics and bathing at the beach.
Those activities attract Seattleites more than a century later, even if the Puget Sound water can be on the chilly side.
There are pieces of rugged coastline, grassy areas, woodland for walks, two wetlands, a pier for fishing, a boat launch and fire pits for campfires.
As with Alki Beach, there’s no better way to watch the sun slipping behind the Olympic Mountains than from the warmth of a beachside campfire.
40. The Crocodile
Hailed as the cradle of grunge rock, The Crocodile opened in 1991 and is up there with the best places to watch live music, not just in Seattle but across the United States.
The venue’s pedigree has a lot to do with that, as all the bands that came out of the city during the grunge era, like Nirvana, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam and Tad played here.
If you’re a fan of the genre then a trip to The Croc will be a long-term ambition, but it’s also a great place to catch some live independent music, whether you’re sampling the local scene or catching your favourite act on tour.
Added to that there’s a good bar, a balcony if you want to avoid the pit, and you can get a personal pizza with any toppings for a flat fee of $7.
41. City Highlights Small Group Minivan Tour
If you only have a day to spend in Seattle and want to condense as many things into as little time as possible then a tour with a local guide is the way to go.
The highly-rated City Highlights tour on GetYourGuide.com is an informative and efficient three-hour odyssey, crystallising a whole vacation into one drive.
You’ll take in the Romanesque Revival architecture of Pioneer Square, the cosmopolitan streets of the International District, the Waterfront, Seattle’s colossal sports arenas, the towers of downtown Seattle and the bold architecture of the Seattle Center.
From there you’ll climb to Kerry Park where Seattle is laid out before you, while at Ballard Locks you’ll find out about the lifecycle of the Northwest salmon and watch the flotilla of commercial vessels passing through.
42. Fremont Troll
In 1990 the Fremont Arts Council commissioned a piece of public art for space below the north end of the George Washington Memorial Bridge, as it had become a haunt for antisocial activity.
Their pick, by a team of four local artists, was the Fremont Troll, a now iconic sculpture, 5.5 metres tall and composed of 6 tons of reinforced concrete.
As a witty touch the troll holds an actual Volkswagen Beetle in its left hand, as if it has just snatched it from the road.
The work is designed to be climbed on, and in 2005 the stretch of Aurora Avenue North under the bridge was renamed Troll Avenue in its honour.
Included in: Seattle Highlights Sightseeing Tour
43. Gum Wall
Also unconventional, the Gum Wall is a gum-coated section of Post Alley, down a flight of stairs from Rachel the piggybank at Pike Place Market.
From the early 90s, audience members on their way in or out of the Unexpected Productions improv theatre would stick used chewing gum on the wall and decorate it with a coin.
Over time people have become creative, spelling out their name and composing little artworks with the gum.
The wall has been cleared three times, most recently in 2015 as chemicals in the gum were damaging the brickwork in the alley.
At that time the Gum Wall was several inches thick and estimated to have more than a million pieces.
This was just a temporary measure as the Gum Wall has been recognised as a tourist attraction since 1999 and has picked up a new coating already.
44. Dick’s Drive-In
This thriving fast food chain is a local staple but has never expanded beyond the Seattle area.
It’s easy to love Dick’s Drive-In, whether it’s for the pared-down menu (no substitutions are allowed), or for the way the chain treats its staff.
The employee benefits are the best in the fast food industry, with 100% employer paid health insurance and a $22,000 college tuition scholarship after six months of employment.
As of 2019 there were eight locations, the first of which opened in Wallingford in 1954. The fries are hand-cut fresh daily, the shakes are hand-dipped and individually whipped and all the burgers are made with 100% non-frozen beef.
45. Wing Luke Museum
A recommended stop in the Chinatown-International District, the Wing Luke Museum has a collection of more than 18,000 pieces documenting the Asian American refugee and immigrant experience in north western United States.
The museum represents 26 different ethnic groups and is the only museum in America to take this pan-Asian perspective.
The permanent display, Honoring Our Journey, explains how people from Asia arrived in the Northwest in the 19th and 20th centuries and details the livelihoods and customs of these communities.
“Chinatown-International District” goes into the rich history of the neighbourhood, while at the time of writing in spring 2019 there were several riveting exhibitions on post-war immigration from Vietnam and on Bruce Lee’s link to Seattle.
The museum’s location is its own slice of history, at the East Kong Yick Building.
Dating to 1910 and financed by Chinese immigrants, this housed the Freeman Hotel, which was a stepping stone for new arrivals from China, Japan and Philippines up to the 1940s.
46. Center for Wooden Boats
At South Lake Union, the Center for Wooden Boats promotes the maritime heritage of the Pacific Northwest, but is also a centre of excellence for sailing.
You can visit the docks and workshop here for free, to see traditional boatbuilding skills in action and find out about all the tools and methods that go in to building wooden boats.
Children can make a little boat of their own on the upper floor, while out on the dock you can peruse a small fleet in perfect condition.
Most of these vessels are available for rent, and if you aren’t qualified for a sailboat you can hire a rowboat or pedal boat for a little scenic voyage on Lake Union.
Keep an eye on the Center’s program as it provides a variety of field trips, as well as the free “Sunday Sail”, a cruise aboard one of the center’s many vessels.
The biggest array of vintage coin-op arcade and pinball machines in Seattle is hiding at the back of an empty lot on 36th St and Phinney.
Add-a-Ball is like a time capsule from the early-1990s and has a suitably grungy vibe, with dim lighting and improvised decor.
All attention is on the mass of 50¢ pinball machines, low-fi video games and air-hockey tables.
Strictly for grown-ups, Add-a-Ball is open from 14:00 to 02:00 with cup-holders on every machine to keep your beer within easy reach.
48. Amazon Spheres
Amazon, the multinational e-commerce company, was founded in Seattle in 1994 and has just moved its headquarters from Beacon Hill to South Lake Union.
The company’s high-tech urban campus has taken shape over the last few years, with the completion of the Day 1 and Doppler towers.
But beneath these is the most intriguing of Amazon’s new constructions.
The Spheres, nicknamed “Bezos’ Balls”, are glass biomes, where employees work and relax among 40,000 plants from cloud forest regions in 30 different countries.
There are three interconnected domes, clad with pentagonal hexecontahedron panels and standing up to four storeys tall.
The largest of the 50 or so trees in the Spheres is a 17-metre rusty fig, native to eastern Australia.
You can stop by in downtown Seattle to check out these remarkable buildings from the outside, but you can also go in if you book in advance: There are 90-minute tours of the Amazon HQ most Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:00 and 14:00, while you can access the Spheres on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays each month for unguided visits.
49. 5th Avenue Theatre
A monumental venue seating 2,130, the 5th Avenue Theatre hosts touring Broadway musicals, but also puts on large-scale original productions of its own.
These are done by the 5th Avenue Musical Theatre Company, a gigantic non-profit operation employing hundreds of people.
Many of the shows premiered by the company are bound for Broadway, and in that sense the 5th Avenue Theatre is seen as a testing ground, giving a start to productions like Hairspray, The Wedding Singer and Jekyll & Hyde.
The theatre is part of the Neo-Renaissance Skinner Building, going back to 1925, and has an extravagant interior full of flourishes inspired by Chinese temples.
There’s a pair of Imperial guardian lions watching the stairway to the second level gallery, while the lobby has an stunning plaster canopy imitating bamboo.
Most eye-catching, in the auditorium is an octagonal caisson with a golden dragon at its centre and a chandelier fashioned like a pear hanging from its mouth.
50. Waterfront Park
Bookended by the Seattle Aquarium and the Seattle Great Wheel on Elliott Bay, Waterfront Park is one of the many great places to watch the sun go down in Seattle.
There are two pink metal viewing platforms here for you to appreciate downtown Seattle’s skyline, the West Seattle Bridge, the Waterfront and out onto the Puget Sound to Blake Island and the Olympic Mountains.
You can use coin-op telescopes for a closer look, while the abstract Waterfront Fountain (1974) is made up of cast and welded bronze fashioned into cuboid forms.
51. The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour
Boeing’s Seattle production facility opened up in Everett about half an hour north of downtown Seattle in the 1960s.
The journey is worth every second, for the only publicly available tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in the whole of North America.
No aircraft enthusiast should miss the sight of 747s, 767s, 777s and 787s on the assembly line.
The plant’s employees work five-day weeks, which is worth bearing in mind because there’s less activity to be seen on weekends.
The adventure begins at the Future of Flight Aviation Center, which is brimming with Boeing components and aircraft sections.
There’s a cockpit from a 727 that you can sit in, while you can lay your hands on fuselage from the 707 and 787 Dreamliner.
You can also inspect full-size models of a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine from a 787 and a GE90 engine from a 777. The museum has loads of interactive features, like a station where you can digitally design your own aircraft, while the rooftop deck commands views over the factory and Paine Field airport.
52. Bruce Lee Grave Site
Neighbouring Volunteer to the north is the Lake View Cemetery, which, true to its name, is blessed with spellbinding views of Lake Union to the west.
It is in this beautiful setting, near the cemetery’s highest point, that you’ll find the rather unassuming graves of Bruce Lee and his son Brandon, side by side.
There’s a small bench for visitors and you can take a moment to reflect on the impact made by the two men in their tragically short lives.
53. Mount Rainier Full-Day Walking or Snowshoe Tour
Mount Rainier, so integral to Seattle’s skyline, is a dormant volcano all on its own at 4,392 metres tall.
As well as being the highest mountain in Washington State, it’s also the most prominent peak in the continental United States.
Mount Rainier is a Decade Volcano, one of 16 around the world considered worthy of study because of their history of destructive eruptions and closeness to built-up areas.
If you can’t resist the call of this monster you can embark on a day-long guided walk and snowshoe adventure from Seattle with GetYourGuide.com.
You’ll head to the national park in a luxury van with a naturalist guide, and it’s worth bringing binoculars to glimpse elk, black bears and coyotes.
You’ll see lakes, immense sweeps of forest, waterfalls and some of the mountain’s 26 glaciers.
The trip usually entails a hike on the light Nisqually Vista Trail, but if you’re up for something more challenging you need only ask.
54. Olympic National Park Tour
A teasing, ever-present outline on Seattle’s western horizon (on clear days!), the Olympic National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains some of the oldest woodland in the United States.
You can take a day-long guided excursion to this unfettered wilderness in a comfortable van with GetYourGuide.com.
The journey entails a ferry trip through the waterways of Puget Sound and then a meandering drive up to Hurricane Ridge (weather permitting) for astounding panoramas of the mountains.
On the adventure you may catch sight of black bears, black-tailed deer or Olympic marmots.
Lake Crescent on the park’s north side is unforgettable for its vivid blue waters, and from these shores you’ll be able to stride out into the park’s famous old-growth of western hemlock and Douglas fir forest, pausing for a photo of the dreamy Marymere Falls if there’s enough time.
55. Woodinville Wine Country
Go northeast of downtown Seattle and in as little as 30 minutes you’ll be in Woodinville Wine Country.
The grapes for many of the wineries here are grown in the Columbia Valley in Eastern Washington, where a few things come together to create excellent conditions for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chardonnay.
There’s an arid climate thanks to the buffer of the Cascade Mountains, allied with sandy, gravelly soils, perfect for planting vines.
There are more than 130 wineries and tasting rooms in Woodinville Wine Country, and if you have to pick one, make it the first winery to be founded in Washington State, Chateau Ste.
Michelle (1954). If you’re just dropping by, you can try the Feature Flight of five reserve wines at the Tasting Room Bar, or set off on a 35-minute tour and tasting.
For more in-depth experiences, dedicated to Riesling, sparkling wine or the art of winemaking, are available by reservation.
Related tour: Snoqualmie Falls & Woodinville Wine Tasting